By Dr. Julie Ball
Hurricane Irene was on her way. There was nothing we could do about that…except go fishing! Landfall was expected Saturday night in Virginia, and Friday morning was gorgeous. Since our trip had been postponed from the weekend before, we were determined to get in some cobia action before it was too late. For some reason, we couldn’t find anyone else to go?
I met Captain Ben Shepherd at Lynnhaven Inlet in Virginia Beach at around 8am. On Ben’s boat “Above Average”, we headed toward the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. The water was slick, and we maybe saw five boats all morning.
We were sight casting for cobia. So I followed Ben up into the tower and started scanning the water. We began to worry a little after not seeing any fish for a good 30-minutes. Ben spotted the first fish, which appeared to be about 50-pounds. Ben swung the boat around while I climbed out of the tower. The fish just hovered by the piling, awaiting my eel. It wasn’t a bad cast, and the fish darted at the bait. I was thinking this is too easy. Next thing I know the cobia turned, and made a hard dash between the pilings and kept going! Uh oh, now what? Ben wasn’t fazed. I loosened the drag and stood on the bow. Ben maneuvered the boat between the pilings while I watched in amazement. Are you kidding me? That was awesome! Not even a bump. We caught up with the fish, and Ben said “Ok, you can fight your fish now.”
Ben netted my cobia. It was a nice fish, so we photographed and measured it for a potential Release Record. That was easier said than done with a peeved cobia! Of course these fish have plenty of attitude and pack a powerful punch. Poor Ben was gentle as he tried to hold the fish still for the length photos, but it had other ideas! We released the fish, and we swore we wouldn’t do that again!
We saw a several fish here and there, mostly smaller, and a few that wouldn’t eat. I never saw the next one until we had passed it. Ben swung around and made two casts before I could get down. He hooked up the cobia and turned the fish so that it followed the boat into safe territory as we drifted into the Bay. He grinned and said, “This is a good fish!” I asked if had caught a citation this year. He said he hadn’t caught one in a long time. So I told him “Go ahead, it’s all you!” I dug for my camera, and Ben slipped down from the tower. I had fun watching Ben run around the boat several times while the cobia proceeded to put a whoopin’ on him.
Ben asked if I was going to net his fish. Net it? I looked at the flounder net he had onboard and then looked at his 80-pound cobia. He saw my glance and said, “It’ll fit.” I must say that it was sorta like playing golf to get that fish’s head into that little net. He did fit, well mostly. Ben helped me pull the net over the side. It was a big fish, about 59-inches. Ben said, let’s measure it for a record. What? That fish is bigger than mine; I thought we weren’t doing that again? Oh well, it WAS bigger. Ok, let’s do it. This time the procedure went much smoother. We had the routine down, and the fish was more cooperative. Another potential record, done.
Ok, let’s catch one more. We cruised for maybe five more minutes, and then we spotted a pair circling a set of pilings. One fish was much larger than the other. Ben set the boat up, but they swam to the other side. Ok, so Ben moved around to the other side of the pilings, and they moved back to the other side. This is going to be fun, I thought. I asked, “Are they still there?” Ben nodded and pointed at the fish. Here goes. My eel began to sink, and I was thinking I was going to need to recast. But then the line came tight, and we were in business. The fish didn’t really do much as Ben backed out from the bridge so I thought it might be the smaller one. That thought didn’t last long. After one good tug on my end, the fish took a dive to the bottom as my drag screamed. I think I’m gonna need my belt.
A boat pulled up to watch as my skills were tested by a big cobia that was not in the mood. Ben said, “That’s a big fish, it’s probably close to 90-pounds!” After several laps, and a few recoveries, the fish began to show signs of slowing up. Ben held up the net in anticipation. The guy in the other boat yelled over, “You want a bigger net?” Of course Ben says “No thanks, it’ll fit.” Great. Maybe it would fit, but the fish wanted no part of the net. Its huge head went in, but not the rest of it! No problem, Ben just reached over and grabbed its tail too, and hoisted my 90-pound cobia into the boat while I gasped wide-eyed! We high-fived, and then sprang into action. Now we were cobia handling pros. Photos, measurements, revived, and released in record time! The fish stretched to 61.5-inches. Now we can go in.
What an exciting, awesome day!